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I bought a second hand Microsoft Surface Pro last Saturday, and in only one day I managed to ruin the only USB 3.0 port in the device.

I bought a cheap USB 3.0 hub. It didn't work. The HUB had input for external power, and -unfortunately- I found among my old stuff a USB cable that had the right connector type. I connected the USB end of the cable to the external power source (it happens that the Surface's charging brick has, also, a USB charging port, so I used it), then I connected the DC type connector to the hub, then the hub to the USB port in the surface.

It didn't work, but later that night I found out that nothing was working anymore when connected to the Surface. Not even a pen drive (usb flash drive), and that was after my unfortunate tampering.

After all and tears, something gave me a little hope - the only device that worked was a flash drive-shaped MP3 player that plugs into the USB port, but has a chargeable battery inside. The computer was able to see the device. Then I made another test - I connected an external drive that came with a Y-cable (those who optionally draw energy from 2 usb ports), I connected one end to the computer and the other end to the AC adapter's charging USB port, and the HDD worked!

I So I guess that the USB port isn't able to provide energy anymore, but the DATA connection still works.

The multimeter, which shows around 4-5V in any USB port's VCC pin and the Ground pin, shows less than 1V on the Surface Port.

I think the port will be hard to fix. I would like to take a look inside, maybe even 'steal' the lost 5V from anywhere inside the surface, but opening The Surface Pro is hard dangerous. No screws, just glue, very tight, I'll probably break it.

Chances are that I can still use a powered external HUB to connect devices.

Anyway, I have very small knowledge of electronics and wanted to know a little more. I have some ideas for this small tragedy - So I have these questions about these projects:

  1. Is it really possible I 'fried' the USB port or the energy-related circuit of it, by putting energy into it because of the cheap powered USB hub?

  2. To those who know the Surface - would it be possible to build some kind of short USB cable (kind of an adaptor) that connected to all data pins on the USB, but drew the VCC from any other connector on the surface that provides 5V? So I would at least be able to plug in a USB flash drive or something.

  3. Would it be possible to build some kind of USB extension cable (male USB to female USB) with a box in the middle to hold, say, 4 AA chargeable batteries? In that case I would cut out the wire that comes from the USB input and use the batteries to provide the energy to the device.

  4. Any other thoughts are appreciated.

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  • Yes; Its possible to fry the USB controller IC. If there is only one port then there is only one controller IC – Ramhound Dec 3 '14 at 18:42
  • Find teardown photos and instructions on ifixit.com. be advised they give the surface pro a very bad score for being difficult to repair. – MarkU Dec 3 '14 at 18:50
  • Thank you guys, your replies were really fast and enlightening. I already found the teardown pics and that was really scary. – Emilio Le Roux Dec 3 '14 at 22:08
  • Have you tried completely powering down the Surface and leaving it off for a few minutes? If you're really lucky, Microsoft protected the USB ports with a polyfuse, and you've just tripped it. That should reset it. – derobert Dec 5 '14 at 12:05
  • I tried to do this several times with no luck so far. It's a long shot but I'll completely discharge the unit and leave it for a week or so. In the meantime I built a custom Y cable with one female USB and two male USB connectors. The female connector takes the D+ and D- wires from the 'data' male usb, and VCC from the 'power' male usb. the GND wire is common to all. My advice: stay away from standard Y cables! Thank you all for your replies. – Emilio Le Roux Dec 11 '14 at 12:15
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1) Is it really possible I 'fried' the USB port or the energy-related circuit of it, by putting energy into it because of the cheap powered USB hub?

Sadly, yes. Cheap usb hubs often power back through the USB connector. It shouldn't be a problem if it provides 5v like it should - but situations just like yours happen and then things break.

2) To those who know the Surface - would it be possible to build some kind of short USB cable (kind of an adaptor) that connected to all data pins on the USB, but drew the VCC from any other connector on the surface that provides 5V? So I would at least be able to plug in a USB flash drive or something.

You pretty much described exactly what you need! Based on what you have said in the question, this is totally possible. Data pins go to surface, power pins to 5v. You can even get a wall wart to do this with. Just be careful about amperage and polarity.

3) Would it be possible to build some kind of USB extension cable (male USB to female USB) with a box in the middle to hold, say, 4 AA chargeable batteries? In that case I would cut out the wire that comes from the USB input and use the batteries to provide the energy to the device.

Dont do this. There are problems with this idea.

  1. voltage. The voltage in batteries drops as they get used up. This is a huge problem because most usb devices expect a steady 5v supply. You don't want to be writing a file to a flash drive when your 5v becomes 4v and files get corrupted. I would recommend a device that had a rechargeable battery and a usb port (much like the portable cell phone chargers) and use it with your cable that you are creating in step three but there is another problem:
  2. Amprage. Your rechargeable 5v power supply should be enough for say a usb flash drive, but how do we know? A lot of usb devices come with amperage ratings and if your power supply can provide enough amps then theoretically it should work, but you still have to be careful as most devices have no listings, or they aren't accurate.

Realistically, I think the best thing you can do is get a USB hub that does not feed back power. If you can get the hub talking to your surface, then devices should talk to the hub without an issue. It really sucks that this happened, but the surface is not a service friendly machine at all and you are going to be stuck with workarounds for the rest of the device's lifespan. Sorry :(

  • Thank you very much for your detailed help! I just built a special Y cable that can power a device or hub without energy going to the computer by isolating the red wire from the 'data' male-usb. It also occured to me that I could use my android cel phone to power up small devices! my phone can power usb flash drives and external portable disks! but nothing happens when I use the Y cable and the phone - I guess the power from the cel phone isn't just free to take, without a negotiation. – Emilio Le Roux Dec 11 '14 at 12:23
  • Just to update this - a powered hub doesn't work either. The only way so far is this special Y cable, which provides 5V directly from a power source to the usb device, while the data wires are connected to the Surface via another USB cable. The red wire from the Surface is disconnected so no power goes into it but the GND wire must be common. This power source can be the Surface charger, but I'll try a 5000 mAh power bank anyway. I'm sure I won't fry 'more' the port, and it will be less painful for simple devices like a pen drive, or the USB audio interface I use for audio recording. – Emilio Le Roux Dec 20 '14 at 22:01
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Yes, it is possible to power a USB device using methods like the ones you describe. It's also possible that a powered USB hub would do the trick. You need one that works properly, not the one that burned out your port.

Internally, (unless they've changed things again), the USB port derives its power using a separate power controller chip. This chip is in turn controlled by a signal that comes from the USB controller. And the whole thing is managed by the driver software. Speaking of which, if you haven't yet, do a shutdown and restart of the tablet. Sometimes the USB power is turned off because the driver saw it was overloaded.

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I would try to contact MS hardware support online or at an MS store. https://myservice.surface.com/en-CA/pages/welcome.aspx

With any luck they may honor their warranty and swap the device. MS has been very eager to provide a superior customer experience with the Surface tablet. btw, you did not say whether yours is an SP2 or 3. Since SP2 is no longer be available, they may offer an upgrade to SP3. At the enterprise level they were promoting a device buyback program, affiliated with clover wireless, where they would credit you on an old device(ipad, etc) http://microsoft.cebuyback.com/

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